Scholars of economic sociology of India like Barbara Harriss White, Rina Agarwal, Jan Breman, Dilip Subramanian, Rajnarayan Chandravarkar and others have illustrated how the economy of Indian Society cannot be understood by the modernist or developmentalist model that exclude the informal interstices that formal institutions, that govern the political economy of India, like the state, financial institutions, public institutions develop in course of time. I am particularly interested in the way White has used Social Structures of Accumulation (SSA), as put forward by David Gordon, to understand the Indian economy which is capitalized in metropolitan cities by using the other 88 percentage of rural and small town economies. My aim is to use the SSA approach in understanding the political economy of Bollywood that uses and has implications on the large network of formal-informal work/labour that makes movies possible. I will go into the details of White’s work particularly, as I am taking off from her work to understand the nuances of the film industry that I encountered in my preliminary fieldwork. Before that I want to briefly outline the position of scholarship, from the few other above mentioned scholars, on sociology or work in India that would further highlight the importance of SSA approach in understanding my proposed topic.
Rina Agarwala favors an economic sociology of work, rather than just economics of work, to understand the deeply embedded nature of the informal economy in India and the socio-political lives of its increasing number of footloose workers after globalization (Agarwala 2009). For a comprehensive understanding of the informal economy she advocates the use of a “relational” conceptualisation that economic sociology enables (ibid 2009). It is a very useful method of analysis that in contrast to modernization and neo-liberal assumptions of isolated economies, exposes that character of informal economy, specially, in India that consist of structures, networks, and political institutions that intertwine informal workers with the formal economy, society, and state (ibid. 2009). This ensures the inclusion of previously invisible informal workers, especially those who operate at the intersection of the informal and formal economy. It also enables collection of data collection in ways that throw light on how informal workers are socially and politically embedded, including their collective action efforts, the meaning they attach to their labor, and the social networks that determine their life chances (ibid. 2009).
In her work, she has highlighted the expansion of the informal workforce since the government enacted liberalization reforms and the adapting political action strategies that Indian informal workers launch against the state. The same is reflected in the condition of below-the-line-workers1 of the film industry. (Elaborate on this please…from my research)
Agarwala urges us to seek insights into why the informal labor force still expands despite urban, industrial modernization and globalization. For that we need to understand how the informal economy is connected to other market structures and to the state; and how these connections affect informal workers’ unique collective action strategies, networks, and identities. In the increasingly challenging global capitalism, formal employers have to rely on networks of cheap, flexible informal workers to lower their production costs and remain competitive. Low-wage urban residents, in turn, rely on the cheap goods and services of informal workers for their own reproduction. Also, states rely on informal workers to escape ensuring minimum wages or security to all workers.
Agarawala also cites Portes et al. (1989) who have famously defined the informal economy as units that produce legal goods and services, but engage in operations that are not registered or regulated by fiscal, labor, health, and tax laws. Then informal workers also consist the growing group of contractors who work through chains of subcontractors for formal enterprises. White has called these latter subset of workers as intermediaries between the formal and informal. Also, it is important to keep in mind that formal is not strictly formal and informal is not strictly informal. There is a fuzzy relationship between the both these spheres that seep into one another. In this light, White talks about the decaying State.
In the pursuit of such insights, White stresses on the importance of ‘field economics’ without which one cannot see locally how capital accumulates with simultaneous class formations2 and the relation between different structures and regions of a politico-economic society. In my study also there is no substitute for fieldwork. The resultant analysis would be a reliable way towards research that consciously avoids generalisations.
Dilip Subramanian, a contemporary researcher, raised the issue of lack studies on the formal sector except on ‘those trusted staples of labour research: textiles, jute and coal, industries that can with difficulty be qualified as modern’ (Subramanian 2005). This neglect of labour in modern industries is the neglect of the actual pluralities of labour that bind them in both formal and informal sectors of India. He expresses his understanding in the case of historians, that the absence of publicly accessible sources and archival material, with the exception of media sources, could partly explain the absence of such work in their terrain. However, he raises questions on why the sociologists and anthropologists are not doing it enough?
He acknowledges the fact of informal sector wherein majority of the Indian workforce is concentrated but warns us of indulging in such an enquiry at the cost of enquiry into organised sector workers on the grounds that the latter are a privileged minority. This costs us the richness of understanding that an attempt to uncover the pluralities of labour in both sectors would enable. Without it, our understanding of contemporary ‘Indian labour as a whole will be poorer because it will obscure the extent of the linkages, the circular flow of exchanges, material and symbolic, that intimately bind the two sectors’ (ibid. 2005)
This would also lead to a failure in grasping the reproductive arena of the working class. Which in turn would be an obstacle in our ability to apprehend the kinds of group membership existing and the diverse sources of identities with which workers go on to experience their lives. Subramanian advocates through such a study the deconstruction of ‘the mutilayered situational logic underlying the configuration of workers. identity and sense of social belonging.’ (Elaborate using my research)
Rajnarayan Chandravarkar emphasised the importance of looking at how workers were active in the making of their politics in a historical analysis, where most other works have dealt exclusively on the sphere of workplace which limited their understanding of social consciousness of workers to trade union development. In one of his earliest works ‘Workers’ Politics and the Mill Districts in Bombay between the Wars’ we see that labour politics in the inter-war years was the struggle between politicians, attempting to mobilize labour, and their traditional leaders, the jobbers in the cotton mills. While in the Bombay film industry the struggle involves corporates, producers, stars as well but Bollywood, though it claims to, has not been able to keep away from politicians. I will bring out such instances in my fieldwork on strike later in this report. However, the union leaders have a tremendous hold and influence over the workers registered in their respective unions of film industry. Chandavarkar’s seminal works actually paved the way forward for labour historians, sociologists as well as economists to understand the conflicting and evolving structures of accumulations that control labour in an economy. He explained that the motive force behind labour militancy is located outside the realm which workers controlled. ‘Their political (and moral) choices, were consistently being made by others’ (Chandavarkar 1981). The history of the working class is interchangeable with history of their leaders, trade unions and political parties. An excerpt from the same work will substantially make explicit such a history:
“The intimidation of ordinary workers’ by ‘strikers’ often explained to the millowners as well as the Home Department why political agitators and their allies were able to shut down their mills. Clearly, intimidation by itself did not explain the solidarity of a strike, as, for instance, the Bombay Millowners’ Association believed; at the same time without ‘intimidation’ it was impossible at times to conduct a strike. But intimidation was not conducted only by such ‘professional’ groups and union bullies. It was more usual for workers who favoured a strike to act in their own chawls to prevent their fellow residents from going to work. Since their own jobs were in the balance, it is unlikely that their actions needed to be instigated or organized for them. One jobber described the working methods of those who canvassed for the 1938 strike: ‘Usually five or ten men are real workers, they approach people but these five or ten people are followed by a large crowd.’ When union bullies acted successfully in their self-conscious role as bullies, they appear to have done so with the aid and approval of the chawl.”
Also, Chandavarkar stressed on understanding the tension between trade union organization at the level of the individual mill and at the level of the whole industry, which was crucial to the determination of the politics of the textile industry. Trade unions depends on the leaders’ connections to the employers, politicians and surrounding neighbourhoods. Thus, most trade unions and their leaders were constrained by this intermediary position. ‘As intermediaries who built upon their jobber and neighbour-hood connections, they were better placed to mediate in the workers’ disputes than to lead them.’ (ibid 1981) Following is another excerpt that would further substantiate the above understanding:
“Trade unions, like the Kamgar Hitwardhak Sabha, the Social Service League and the Bombay Textile Labour Union never became company unions, but nor were they free to champion the workers’ cause. Following the momentum of workers’ action could bring them directly into conflict with jobbers and other neighbourhood patrons. It could also invoke the displeasure of the state and of the employers, whose benevolence and trust was vital to their political survival. For it was their influence in ruling circles which made these unions valuable allies for the workers and the lesser leaders of the neighbourhood.” (Chadavarkar 1981)
Add examples from your research……. Why Rajnarayan Chandravarkar is important for my work?
Jan Breman, in 2003, strongly argued that:
“The fight against poverty seems to have been transformed into a fight against the poor. A point of no return is reached when a reserve army waiting to be incorporated into the labour process becomes stigmatized as a permanently redundant mass, an excessive burden that cannot be included now or in the future, in economy and society. This metamorphosis is, in my opinion at least, the real crisis of world capitalism.” (Quoted in Benanav, 2010: 232)
Breman apprehended the dangers of divisions within the working and warned that there is a strong correlation between market and religious fundamentalism. Where there is acute competition amongst the poor for scarce jobs, ‘there is much danger that, rather than teaming up, the reserve armies will give in to the temptation to see each other as rivals and fight for whatever employment opportunity comes up. No longer mobilized on the basis of occupational identity, they see no alternative but to rely on their first-order loyalties of ethnicity, caste, race and creed’ (Saith, 2016).
His work was a praxis to unite workers and justify strong alliances between them. Here is an example of how empathetically Breman advocated against the dividing of working classes from Saith’s article:
Mike Davis (2006: 179), about labour aristocrats ‘a frenzied beehive of proto-capitalists’ whose profit-making talents could be unleashed simply by giving them formal property rights and by the state getting out of the way; ‘myth inspired by wishful thinking’ was the least impolite of his Breman’s several critical reactions to this reductionist and diversionary political tactic. Breman argues that ‘the political lesson is not to rank the various fractions of the workforce in a sequence from greater to lesser vulnerability, as Standing would, but rather to develop strategies that underline their commonalities — to form alliances between organized and informal sectors, not to pit them against each other’ ( Saith 2016, 5)
Breman’s rich and painstaking work has brought in a lot of missing elements of everyday labour struggles in the Asian jigsaw of socio-economic change. He argues about the persistence of the hostile attitudes of the social elites; the complex economic and technological configurations that undermine job creation; an apathetic, self-serving bureaucracy; and a state that thinks of the poor as a vote bank to be manipulated periodically. According to Saith, one may regard his ouevre as a ‘militant sociology’ of labour. Nevertheless, in Breman’s perception ‘the macro-level setting and the micro-level narrative should be dealt with as intertwined and need to be theorized in complementarity with each other’ (Saith 2016, 10)
Relate to your Research….
Social structures of accumulation
“The social structure of accumulation (SSA) approach seeks to explain the long-term fortunes of capitalist economies in terms of the effect of political and economic institutions on growth rates” (Kotz, McDonough & Reich 1994).
Social structures of accumulation refer to a complex of institutions which help capital accumulation. The SSA approach suggests that a long period of relatively rapid and stable economic expansion requires favourable social structures of accumulation (SSA). Such institutions of SSA promote growth and stability for a period of time till the SSA starts to decay. This is followed by a period of stagnation and instability until a new SSA is consolidated. The SSA includes political, cultural and economic institutions. The institutions have both domestic and international arrangements. The institutions forming a SSA have direct or indirect affect upon the accumulation process.
Some examples of domestic institutions are the state of labor-management relations; the organization of the work process; the character of industrial organization; the role of money and banking and their relation to industry; the role of the state in the economy; the line-up of political parties; the state of race and gender relations; and the character of the dominant culture and ideology. Examples of international institutions are trade, investment, monetary financial, and political environments (ibid. 1).
The character of industrial organization has both domestic and international arrangements interlinked. In Bollywood….
SSA emphasises an intermediate level of analysis, focusing on the logic of long swings and stages of capitalism, as necessary for an understanding of capitalist development. This intermediate analysis complements the traditional and abstract Marxian approach to capitalist development and also included the more recent concrete analyses of everyday life (ibid. 13).
Such an analysis holds that capitalist accumulation cannot take place either in a vacuum or in chaos. The SSA approach strongly argues that macro-dynamic analyses should begin with the political-economic environment that affects individual capitalists’ capital accumulation. Gordon argues that, ‘Without a stable and favorable external environment, capitalist investment in production will not proceed. We refer to this external environment as the social structure of accumulation’ (ibid. 14)
The theory of SSA through stages of capital accumulation in relation to long expansions and following long stagnations can be summarised in the following way:
“(1) A period of expansion is built upon the construction and stabilization of a favorable social structure of accumulation.
(2) The favorable institutional context for capital accumulation generates a boom of investment and rapid economic activity.
(3) The success of the capital accumulation process pushes investment to the limits that are possible within the social structure of accumulation. Continued rapid capital accumulation requires (among other changes) either a reproduction of the conditions existing at the beginning of the boom or a transition to a new organization of the labor process and labor markets. The initial conditions are difficult to reproduce, and needed reforms are not easily achieved.
(4) Accumulation slows and the period of stagnation is entered. Attempts to alter the institutional structure are met with opposition, especially in a stagnationary context.
(5) Economic stagnation promotes the further dissolution of the existing social structure of accumulation.
(6) The restoration of the possibility of rapid capital accumulation during an economic crisis depends on the construction of a new institutional structure.
(7) The internal context of this institutional structure is profoundly but not exclusively shaped by the character of the class struggle during the preceding period of economic crisis.
(8) The new social structure of accumulation is virtually certain to differ from its predecessor, thereby generating a succession of stages of capitalism.
(9) Each stage of capitalism is likely to feature a long period of expansion, then a subsequent long period of stagnation.” (Ibid. 20)
These stages should not be distinguished by exact dating schemes but should be seen as overlapping each other. The process of change does not happen overnight and is likely to take many years. The beginning of a new expansion could start long before the end of a crisis and a crisis could continue substantially into a new stage.
Gordon towards the end of the book3 rethinks about the global economy and argues that it has disintegrated into interdependent economies with competing state influences. He argues that we are witnessing the decay of the post-war global economy. This alternative account has been built l upon the analytic foundations “social structure of accumulation” (SSA) approach.
To quote Gordon, ‘the distinctive features of the newly industrializing countries (NICs) are not their low wages or their technical adaptations, since wages are low almost everywhere in the less developed countries (LDCs) and new technologies could be applied anywhere. Rather, what seems especially striking about the NICs is the increasingly political and institutional determinations of production and trading relationships. Transnational Corporations (TNCs) negotiate with each other and host countries for joint production agreements, licensing, and joint R&D contracts. They search among potential investment sites for institutional harbors promising the greatest protection against an increasingly turbulent: world economy’ (ibid. 295).
The fact that the role of the state has grown substantially since the early 1970s is important to bear in mind. State policies are becoming more and more decisive on the international front. In turn, transnational corporations have even more dependent upon coordinated state intervention the resolution of any underlying crisis. In the present times, TNCs are not all-powerful.